NOWAKE ready to rock with new album

NOWAKE bassist Ryan Gilmore and guitarists Austin Birkhead and Sean McHargue play on stage. Birkhead and McHargue also sing vocals, and they are joined by vocalist Mark Kempker and drummer Mark VanWinkle. The Hannbal band's third studio album, Wartooth, is coming out in February, and the band is eager to play live performances in 2021. 

HANNIBAL — Hannibal’s NOWAKE is gearing up for a year with opportunities to connect with fans onstage again, playing past favorites and songs from their new album, Wartooth.

NOWAKE’s third album is set to be released in February, after COVID-related delays and concert cancellations created roadblocks in 2020. Three members of NOWAKE are Hannibal firefighters, and one of the performances they are eager to play is the Epic Music Showcase to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. Wartooth reflects NOWAKE’s change from four members to five members — with Mark Kempker, vocals, Sean McHargue, guitar and vocals, Austin Birkhead, guitar and vocals, Ryan Gilmore, bass, and Mark VanWinkle, drums — and the various musical inspirations behind their sound combining melodic and hard-driving rock elements.

“It’s nice to see that they are involved in this album and they have their touches and their hands and their hard work being recorded and being able to be listened to for many, many moons to come,” Kempker said.

McHargue and Kempker have shared great moments with past members of the band, and Wartooth lets listeners hear the latest part of NOWAKE’s journey. The album echoes a theme of “rising above,” McHargue said, which is evident in the torn paper and soaring WWII warplanes depicted on the fan-inspired album artwork.

Band members worked over the past year to create Wartooth’s songs. Kempker “paints the scene” with lyrics with intertwining stories, McHargue said. He writes lyrics on a white board as the music fills the room, sharing ideas with bandmates while the song takes shape.

McHargue stressed lyrics can mean something different for each listener, and he said there are themes of rising above and making good choices in “Wartooth.” He said VanWinkle came up with “Crazy World,” bringing the song to completion with Birkhead’s guitar work and Kempker’s lyrics to convey the message he wanted.

There were many highlights along the way for the band, and McHargue and Kempker both mentioned “Forgotten Melody,” which is quite different from NOWAKE’s previous songs. The song brings a heavy feel reminiscent of Mastodon, and McHargue centered on the depth of Kempker’s lyrics, like the line “I have seen the miracle of life and the tragedy of death.”

Kempker remembered receiving the first edit back from the producer for “Forgotten Melody” and the music video shoot with producer Freddy D’Angelo as two particularly strong highlights during the process.

“It’s been a long road due to the coronavirus — the ability for us to actually get together and rehearse on the stuff,” Kempker said, commending fellow band members, producers and others who helped along the way. “I’m really excited to see this finally come around.”

The album opens with an instrumental piece, with instruments layered upon another in a way evocative of Tool. The title track, “Wartooth,” comes in suddenly and forcefully afterward.

McHargue said “Alone” has more of an alternative-type feel, which is a departure from some of their harder-driving songs. “Move” began with “a fun riff” McHargue came up, before building with VanWinkle’s drums and hitting a cut-time feel with a 90’s grunge flair.

“That song was a lot of fun for me as a guitar player, because I fire off the intro to it and it’s just me at first,” McHargue said, stressing the band likes to avoid sticking to the same time signatures as they connect with fans on stage and through the album. “We like to take people on a little bit of a ride as we go through the songs.”

The band is eager to get out to venues to perform and connect again with fans on a personal level — something McHargue said everyone needs following the isolation brought on by the pandemic.

“We’re definitely movin’ and shakin’ whenever we can. We can’t let this pandemic keep us down. There’s definitely opportunities to get out there and play music for people. We’ve just got to find them.”

Kempker felt the same way, stressing the importance of supporting live musicians throughout the area.

“Having that opportunity to get out there and play our music live to folks, and have them either smile or hopefully cheer,” Kempker said. “Just seeing them being excited to hear live music again, I think that’s the biggest part of it. I like the interaction with people.”

Wartooth will be available as a CD and in digital formats on Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora and providers.

More information about NOWAKE and their new album is available by visiting them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter at @NOWAKEmusic or on their website,

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